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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Early (and brief) post

What started this morning as a small itch in the back of my throat is blossoming into what feels like an oncoming cold. I'm throwing the full barrage of herbal/vitamin cold-busters at it, but I'm feeling puny enough that I want to pretty much head straight home after class. I'll stop in the office long enough to drop off my work back and pick up my home bags, but I won't stay to write a post: I need to get home and cozy.

The irony is that, last week, I had said to myself (and to my office mates) that I was planning to cancel classes on the 31st. However, my intention was to do so and have a day that I could enjoy--or at least use productively on my own stuff (revising the sabbatical application--or even just cleaning the apartment, which is on the verge of requiring a haz-mat team). Then, as this week progressed, I was thinking, "No, I don't want to cancel: I want to have the day to work with the students on what they've read." We'll see how I feel in the morning, but my body may have taken the decision out of my hands.

Which is one hell of a strange image, my body taking something out of my hands....

But as for today: first, there was a surprising deluge of students in the Advisement center--or it was surprising until we realized that the college just sent out an e-mail to the students telling them when they can start registering for spring. The faculty advisers rolled through the students as rapidly as we could, so I ended up with some time to start working on the papers for 102--at which point, I realized that my work on revising the check sheet for final versions hadn't done what I needed, the way I needed. I came back to the office and did it one more time--and it still isn't quite what I'd like, but it's a lot closer. Paul and I were talking about it as we walked back to the office from Advisement, and here is the difference in our pedagogical approaches. My check-list is five pages long. Paul would keep his to one page. I want detail--and to do as much as I can to prevent any kind of misunderstanding. Paul wants succinct, as succinct is clear.

Well, flip a coin. My way works for me. (I hope it works for my students, too.) Paul's way would be equally valid and useful.

I'm about to head off to the Fiction Writing class; perhaps I'll find a time later to give the overview of how that goes. I'm planning another free-write--and the homework is as follows: raiding from the Gotham Writers' Workshop book Fiction Writing, I have put together a list of questions to answer about our characters. It's quite a list--and some of the questions are wonderfully odd (such as, describe what the character has on his/her feet--or if the feet are bare, describe the feet themselves). I'm beginning to get a sense of how I want the at-home exercises to build into their third stories (and I need to remind myself when those are due, so I know how much preparatory work I can have them do before they have to write the actual stories). The free-write assignments are less obviously connected to their story production, though I am telling them that they can use their assigned character as the central person for those in-class exercises. However, the free-writing is important just to loosen them up--the way my undergrad drawing instructor generally had us start each class simply drawing huge loops and circles, filling the page with big, loose but firm lines.

Shifting gears a bit: in thinking about working with the Fiction students today, I thought, "Oh, yeah: I want to have my own character notes with me, so I can indulge in the free-writing along with them." In the process of trying to find that piece of paper, I realized I cannot locate the notepad on which I took all the notes of the two observations from last week. I'm hoping like hell I took it home, as I truly do not see it in the office anywhere--and I barely remember anything from either class: I need those notes in order to do my reports. I can't imagine I actually thought I might work on those observations over the weekend, but if I didn't take that pad home, I'm going to have a hell of a challenge, trying to reconstruct what I saw from very shaky memory.

Now, however, it's about time to toddle off to class--and I do want to get myself a cup of tea on the way, so off I go. Here's hoping I feel well enough to hold classes tomorrow--and to get some other work done as well. Lots piling up from P&B, and next week is meeting-heavy. Well, one way or another, it will all get done. It always does.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

tracking my stats

Just a quick note having nothing to do with the actual matter at hand. I do check my blog's statistics every day to see how many readers I'm getting. I still only have three "official" followers (partly because many resist having to set up a Google account in order to become official), but Google keeps track of how many page views I get each day. I was very happy to notice a distinct upward trend lately--though nowhere near approaching my all-time high from last spring. Now, however, that tend is heading south again.

Is it something I said?

slightly less cranky

Last night I was asleep before 10 p.m. I slept until 7:30 this morning--and, wonder of wonders, I feel much less cranky today. Still a little edgy, but when I awoke this morning, I didn't feel the overwhelming sense of "noooo, don't make me!" that I've been battling the last however many days.

Only one student was AWOL from 102 today; she's been struggling with this second paper, despite being a good reader and writer--and she was late picking up the second version to work on this final round--so I was concerned not to see her there. To my delight, however, she was waiting for me when I got back to the office after classes. We talked about her paper--and she has truly good ideas, very strong; she simply needed to clarify them for herself and then be encouraged to develop them in as much detail as possible. One of her problems has been that the paper is significantly under length--not even three full pages--so unpacking her ideas fully will be key to not only a stronger paper but a longer one.

I run into this problem frequently: students are so afraid of "rambling" or "repeating" that they leave their ideas only partially explored, certainly inadequately supported--which I suspected was part of the problem in this particular case. I asked the student if she'd ever seen a debate of any kind. Yes, she had. OK, so how did the debaters make their points? Did they present one or two pieces of evidence and leave it at that? No, she said--already seeing where I was heading--they repeat their points over and over, using more evidence. Yep. Ground the argument in the specific details of the poems; analyze the details in order to demonstrate exactly how they support your overall contention. That's it.

She's been very quiet in class, one of a trio of young women who sit in the back corner and hardly speak (one of them more than the others, but even she pipes up only rarely). Her reticence in class is all the more reason why I was happy--honored, even--that she would take the initiative to meet with me outside of class. Good for her. I'm proud of her for taking that responsibility.

As we embark on the novel, a few of the students are struggling to get a handle on how to do their logs--and a couple left out either the plot summary of the chapters that contain the main narrative or the log portion, when both are now required. A number are also unclear what to put in their logs, so I've been re-explaining. Several are doing a good, solid job. And two are doing excellent work, precisely the right approach. True, one keeps locking on to a minor point and thus reading everything through a mistaken lens, but her methodology is wonderful to see. The other may miss something by a hair, but generally, he's got it nailed. I always love it when some of them get it, truly get it, without struggle.

However, one student is annoying me no end. He keeps writing excuses on his homework, saying that he'd wanted to do a better job but hadn't handled his time well--and finally, I replied that maybe when he gets tired of getting crap grades he'll start managing his time better. I was getting testy with him anyway because of his apparent sense that if he admits to being lazy and incompetent, it excuses the rotten work--but then I saw that he had plagiarized his glossary: he had simply copied the model I'd provided. At first he tried to act as if that isn't plagiarism: "You mean copying definitions is plagiarism?" No, darling, presenting someone else's work as if it is your own is plagiarism. He apologized (no need to apologize to me: I'm not hurt by it), and he said of course he'd re-do it. I said, actually, no, you won't. His glossary grades are now a zero for the rest of the semester. He can do a glossary for his own benefit (I'll lay any odds you like that he won't) but not for a grade. And I actually was too generous with his last log: it should have been a flat F, but I gave it a D-. Next time he presents work of that quality, however, F it will be.

The discussion in class was pretty good, all things considered (like that most of them had been working on their papers, not reading the book). I'll be interested to see how the next discussion goes: we're up to chapter 5, which is rich indeed.

I was pretty well out of it for the Mystery class, however. I kept them sitting there in silence for a few minutes while I finished marking the last of their homework from previous classes--and then I had to confess that I didn't remember exactly what happened in the chapters we'd read for the day. I probably need to reread the whole book before Thursday (which I could do, if I don't read anything else), but I'll be happy if I just skim it and review the last two chapters more carefully. I also need to remember to break down the next book into chunks for them: next time I teach the class (and I hope there is a next time), I'll assign specific chapters for each date instead of giving them the "read as much as you can" thing. They need the goals, and it does help keep us all on the same literal and metaphoric page.

Still, a number wanted to talk with me after class about their revisions, which is a great sign. One had something more personal to talk with me about; she said she'd come to my office hour on Thursday. I had ended class a bit early, so I had time to talk to the students after; I think I'll probably keep that practice going, as they seem to respond well to it. And their revisions are due next Tuesday, so they no doubt need a little more time with me. But it looks like a number of them actually are going to revise, which is unusual, in my experience. Good for them.

For now, however, I want to re-do the check sheet for the final versions of papers for the 102, to include a section on sentence-level stuff (which I left out last time--and it truly is important). I won't get a chance to copy it before the mail room closes for the night, but at least I can run it off first thing in the morning, so I can start working through the papers while I'm in Advisement tomorrow. I'll do a little organizing of whatever's on my desk, and then I'm out of here. I don't know how I can be this tired after so much sleep, but I feel like I could go to sleep right now and sleep until next year. Now there's a lovely thought.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Practicing Whi-ning

I'm once again practicing the ancient Chinese art of whi-ning: I've been in a childish snit for days that I actually have to work for a living. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with my job, my career: all is well. I just don't want to. Three days of no alarm and doing whatever the hell I wanted have simply made me greedy for more.

And yet, I enjoy what's going on when I'm on campus. I know: inconsistent, contradictory, illogical. I came very close to calling in "I don't feel like it" today, but I managed to persuade myself that I was (am) perfectly capable of getting to work and putting in a decent day. I even thought about canceling the entire week: I've got the "sick time" accrued, heaven knows. But really, there is no earthly reason to be so resistant to being here. I'm just channeling Bartelby: I would prefer not to.

I spent most of the time in Advisement coming up with free-writing prompts for the Fiction class, as well as a few more substantive exercises for them to do at home. Saw a few students--one of whom came with her mother, which I always hate. These over-protective "helicopter" parents, unwilling or unable to allow their children to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons: I want to say, "What kind of adult do you want your child to become?" However, I did address myself virtually exclusively to the student--and tried not to get testy with the mother for insisting that I wasn't looking at the right paperwork when I knew I was. But i digress. There weren't many students, and generally I didn't need to spend much time with any of them, but I still didn't get any assignments marked for tomorrow's classes.

And I didn't get any marked during my office hour: the depressed young woman from the Mystery class showed up today, and although I had asked her to figure out how she wanted me to help her, she said she'd been unable to do so. OK. Mostly we just talked, about nothing, anything: I want her to feel supported, not pushed. But I did eventually turn the conversation to her paper revision--and immediately felt the change in affect. I hope I've given her a method for looking at the revision so she doesn't beat herself up about what she did but instead focuses on what she can do. But I do realize that my ability to help her is very limited, and if we meet again, I should shift gears, let her know that it's probably not appropriate for me to be there just to chat with her and make her feel less alone but it is appropriate for me to help her with the class in any and every way I can.

She's very complimentary, too--largely by being utterly matter of fact: of course I should grade hard; of course I should have high standards. That's a refreshing attitude to encounter, and I believe she is genuine. Certainly she doesn't sound like she's sucking up.

She also told me that the students in the Mystery class really like me, which is, of course, gratifying--but I'm not in this to win any popularity contests. I'm more interested in whether they are learning anything. I've not heard anything from the students who wanted to meet with me about their papers; I'll be a teeny bit disappointed if I don't but not at all surprised.

In any event, I spent my entire office hour (office 75 minutes) with her, which I cannot do regularly--but this time, no one else showed up wanting to talk to me--and I didn't want to mark assignments anyway. I had to shoo her out finally when it was time to go to the Fiction Writing class, which was great. We workshopped the two stories we hadn't covered last week; then we did a free-write, talked about it, went over what's required in terms of their revisions (due on Wednesday), went over how the free-writes and some at-home exercises will count (instead of the reading notes I'd originally assigned). The writer of the soap-bubble of a story wanted to see me after class: she was worried about the requirement to "respond" to critiques in the revision, thought she had to do what was suggested, and I assured her no. She has to respond by at least explaining why she chose not to do what was suggested, but it's her story, and she can decide what changes to make, or not make. As long as she does revise, all the changes can be entirely her own ideas, as long as she explains why she decided not to do anything else. She was relieved.

And I came back here and, after bitching to Paul for a while, checked e-mail and then sat down to do this post. Which I'm ready to toss up to the blog, unread. I really just do not want to be here, and since I can get out now, I'm going to. The rest of the work to be done be damned.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

super-fast wrap up

I probably shouldn't be posting at all tonight: I have to get out of here extremely quickly to get out to Stony Brook by 7--and I'll be in rush hour traffic, so I may not make it even so. But the need to wrap up the week compels me to at least give a quick overview.

I didn't quite get the papers all graded before class--and the interruptions that prevented me from doing so were at least in part my fault. I did need to talk to one of the people I'm mentoring for promotion: he's overly sanguine about his folder, and I'm frankly worried that he may not have enough departmental service to satisfy the college-wide Promotion and Tenure committee. We'll do what we can to make what he's got look impressive--and indeed a lot of  it is--but I had to talk to him about the fact that he's not precisely on the ball here.

So that one I scheduled, in a way--but another was a colleague, whom I am also mentoring, who dropped by to see William and ended up wanting to first chat, then ask me some questions about her folder, and I didn't tell her I didn't have the time for the conversation. Then Paul came in, his pit stop before heading up to Massachusetts, and he wanted to know what I'm doing this weekend--and because I love him and want to talk to him, I didn't say to him (or to myself), "I can't do this now: I have to just grade these papers."

But there was only one ungraded, and I finished it up in class as the students were talking about the novel. The discussion about the novel was good. The student I was worried about losing I have now officially lost: even if she shows up again, I'll have to let her know she's only got those two unfortunate options. Seems we're down to 12. I  need to leave papers on the door for two students who weren't there today--and I may, in fact, lose them, too, which would put us at 10. From 27. Sigh.

The Mystery class was OK. I'm not doing group work with them any more, so most of them don't talk (and a few clearly are using the class as nap time), but the ones who do talk are great fun. We got off on a couple of wonderful tangents today, too--about the genre in general. I let them go early, but a lot stayed to talk to me after. Several I asked to come see me either during my office hours or to make an appointment, as they need my help understanding what went wrong with their papers and how to revise. They're great.

And I found out from my student who is friends with the Fiction Writing student that the young woman in Fiction Writing loves the class. Very gratifying way to end the day and the week.

There's a ton more I could say: the 102 students looked over their second versions and asked questions before leaving--or most of them did (the ones who didn't avail themselves of the opportunity last time didn't take advantage this time either). The main thing is, they're learning. All of them: 102, Mystery, Fiction Writing. That's wonderful, and all I can really ask.

I'm leaving my desk an ungodly, chaotic mess, which will not be fun to come back to on Monday morning, but I do have to fly out of here. Here's to a weekend of sleep and self-indulgence.

Oh, and no one said anything about my fabulous, red-and-black, custom-made cowboy boots. Ah well. I still feel special wearing them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

falling over tired

OK: even though my body is getting somewhat adjusted to waking up predawn, a mere 15 minutes earlier than my usual time on Mondays and Wednesdays is apparently more than it can readily accommodate. I've felt pole-axed all day, and I literally can't see very well, eyes are too tired to focus sharply, so I've accomplished approximately zip--and I didn't get through as much as I'd hoped to yesterday, either. Consequently, I'm a lot further behind the curve than I'd anticipated. And yet, early as it is, I do not have it in me to evaluate even one paper for the 102 class. I got through all the stories for the Fiction students (barely) and managed to squeeze out one evaluation for 102 before I had to go to class--but I'm done. Stick a fork in me, done.

So, here's that calculated risk again: I'm going to believe--trust, hope, pray--that I can arrive at the office tomorrow morning before 10 (even if that means 9:59:59) and, through diligence and efficiency, get all the rest of the papers read and evaluated before 2:30. The nice thing is that I don't have a meeting, so I don't have to scant some other obligation in order to focus on the papers. I'm still here in the office now, in fact, instead of on my way home, because one student's revision is, as yet, AWOL: this is the submission by the young woman who missed the first paper entirely. I will be deeply disappointed if she doesn't come through, as if she doesn't, she will have to choose either withdrawal or failure, neither of which is an option that makes me happy (never mind how she'll feel about that choice). But I'm having serious doubts. She was in the unenviable position of having to write the paper without the benefit of having been through the process on the first one--and even the students who did have that benefit struggled wildly this time--so she had a lot of ground to try to cover in a mighty big hurry, and I'll certainly understand if it's just too much. But I'll be disappointed nonetheless.

And, of course, whether I receive her paper or not shifts the count of how many I have to get through, and that factors into how long I have to budget: that equation of X minutes per paper times Y number of papers equals Z hours of grading time--plus a margin of error to account for the papers that take longer than the allotted X minutes. I'm assuming I'll need somewhere in the vicinity of 3 1/2 hours to get through them all, if the first one I graded is a reliable measure of X. I reckon I'll have a better sense of the math tomorrow. I grant you, one paper won't make a huge difference--but sometimes that one last paper is the one that causes panic and wild flurry.

I also know that, one way or another, I'll get them all done--even if a few get relatively skimpy written commentary. I tend to provide more than the students can address anyway, so I tell myself it won't be disastrous if that happens.

If the heavens open and God smiles, I may even have time to whip through the reading notes from the Mystery class--and head into tomorrow's classes clean, as it were. I'll be collecting more work of course, but enh. I should be able to plow through that work easily before Tuesday's classes--good lord willin' and the crick don't rise.

Shifting gears to today's class: as I predicted, we didn't get all the stories workshopped, so I asked the two students whose stories we didn't cover if they'd like the workshop process, even knowing it means they'll have a lot less time to revise than the rest of the students. They both said yes, so we'll finish their stories on Monday, then turn our attention to writing exercises (though which I'll select is as yet an open question--and I haven't been on a raiding expedition through the Gotham book yet). Two of the students' stories are so lovely, I almost hated to critique them: there is certainly room for improvement in both, but each has a beautiful voice--delicate, subtle, lyrical, in very different ways--and I don't want the students to mess that up as they revise. I'm hoping wildly that their revisions can be as delicate and subtle as the original submissions are.

As a side note about Fiction Writing, the best students are talking to each other outside of class, which I love. Edison Adams told the Real Writer today that he hadn't written much in the way of critique because he wanted to sit down and talk about it. The Real Writer mentioned to a young woman in the class--the author of the other soap-bubble lovely story--that he'd already given her most of his critique. When I left class, five students--those three plus the Slam Poet and the president of the Creative Writing club--were gathered outside the building, talking. I absolutely adore it when when students who didn't know each other become friends after meeting in my class. Some of those friendships have been lasting, but even when it's simply a matter of cordial relations around a shared experience, I find it lovely. And gratifying. I may flatter myself, but I believe those friendships are possible because of the classroom atmosphere I foster.

One friendship between my students this semester has nothing to do with me: I found out today that the young woman writer is dear friends with the depressed student from the Mystery class. That's happened before: friends coincidentally end up in different classes of mine--and sometimes swap horror stories (happened last semester, I believe, if I remember the time frames correctly; as I've said, the terms blur together). I still like it, as they act as a support network for each other.

And now, as I begin to conclude this post, I have only ten more minutes before pumpkin time. Perfect. I'll post, check e-mail one more time, pack my little bags, and stagger off into the dusk. Here's to renewed energy, focus--and vision--tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short(ish) post after long day

Today was mostly very scratchy: lots that happened was like sandpaper on my nerves--possibly simply because I'm systemically cranky and irritable these days for no apparent reason (something for me to monitor). But everything bugged me: the dreadful last few papers for the Mystery class (seriously bad); the colleague from P&B who insisted on sitting down with me to give me the same feedback fourteen times--feedback which he's already given me in writing and which had been equally firmly stated by other colleagues--and who still didn't answer my main question; the e-mails from another colleague on that same issue who apparently didn't understand my question, despite my asking four or five different ways; a rather contentious P&B meeting in which, among other things, an unfair--and unfounded--accusation was leveled against the Scheduling Committee (which I'm on).... Even on my walk to class, as I was breathing deeply and trying to get into a better mental state, the two colleagues I encountered included The Putz and the problem faculty member from last semester (the full-timer to whom I gave an unsatisfactory evaluation--and who, in his response to my evaluation called me a liar, in so many words, several times). I'm amazed I didn't walk into 102 ready to tear heads off--but they were their usual lovely selves, so they helped me calm down. The Mystery class continued that  process. And the observation I just conducted was also a pleasure--so all that helped reduce my irritability. The nerves got a little more sandpapering from some ASLE business: I'm being pressured to participate in a discussion I am completely unable to contribute to in any meaningful way, and I've said that very clearly--but again, somehow what I'm saying is not being heard. That's a feeling I do not handle well at all. I think I'm pretty damned clear most of the time, so when I say something several different ways and still apparently am not understood, I get profoundly frustrated. Breathe, Prof. P, breathe.

In any event, I do recognize that my pesky P&B sabbatical mentor is tremendously well-intentioned--and he did say he would get the answer to my question at long last: I just checked my e-mail and there's nothing there, but there may be something waiting in my mailbox (the office and mailroom are closed now). And, in terms of the Mystery papers, I deliberately saved the work from MFS until last--and what a delight that was, to end with her truly excellent work (her paper was an A-, though I told her the A+ is within her reach, with just a little revision). I had a rather touching conversation with one student from that class who is struggling with severe depression, which is making it very difficult for her to work: we're going to try doing some work one-on-one, to see if that little bit of extra support can help her feel less dragged down by my class at least. And as I mentioned, the new adjunct I observed was delightful.

So, I'm going to pull together everything I need to take with me to Advisement tomorrow so I can work there, in between students (thank God there isn't much traffic yet)--and I have to be in early so I can leave early to conduct yet another observation.

And so it goes. I'll be back here in about 13 hours. Christ. If nothing crops up unexpectedly, next week will be a cake walk after this one. Well, apart from that whole revising the sabbatical application thing. But even so.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Well, that does it

I wanted to get through the last few papers for the Mystery class tonight, but I hit one that is so bad I just had to quit. Fortunately, it's very short, so I don't have to spend much time on it: it's a clear fail, but I do need to give the student some idea of what she's doing wrong (just about everything) and what she can do to make it right in revision. After that one, I only have two more to grind through--and one is My Favorite Student's, so I'm actually looking forward to that. I've been disappointed in the past, expecting a great paper from a student who has submitted something under par, but all her written work to date has been great, so I'm hopeful.

I must say, too, that the stack of stuff I'll be returning for that class is pretty astounding--and it feels awfully fine to get it all off my desk at long last.

In any event, once those are done, I'll read and comment on the stories for Wednesday's Fiction class. The worst of the bunch were, fortunately, among those we were set to workshop today, so most of what remains will be relatively good to read--and a few I'm truly looking forward to. We didn't get through as many stories today as we did on the first day of our last workshop process: two students remain to pick up on Wednesday, so I'm guessing that there will be four who won't get the benefit of the workshop process this time around. But again, they simply get to go first next time. I was happy to note, however, that the two students who went first (the ones who were left out last round)--the two who are the weakest in terms of their grasp of the language generally--both had written moments that were quite wonderful and that I could genuinely praise. In fact, I think I'd go so far as to say that, at least in the ones I've read, everyone has made improvements since the first story.

The workshop process is always a treat, too: they're great at what they notice, and I love that they're willing to disagree. The Real Writer and Edison Adams of course always have the best comments--and are very diplomatic in how they convey them, but they don't pull any punches. Yes, please: let's treat each other as adults who can take criticism and learn from it.

Interestingly enough, I had a similar experience with my youngest nephew this weekend. He'd posted a "poem" he'd written on Facebook and--since I'd strongly encouraged him in his stated desire to try writing poetry again--he specifically asked for my feedback. He sure got it. I told him it isn't a poem yet: too ordinary, too hackneyed. I admitted that I personally dislike insistent rhyme and rhythm, but told him that I like that he was willing to work in a clear form--and equally, that as long as he's going to do that, he needs to be in complete control of it: if the rhythm isn't exact, he needs to make that a specific choice, not a consequence of ill-considered word choice. And, bless his heart, he was truly happy and grateful to get the critique. He's 16--and he could be a model of maturity for some of my students (I'm thinking in particular of the student in the Fiction class whose "revision" consisted entirely of adding two sentences, and who, in his report, said he didn't want to change anything else, the lazy fucker).

Well, getting out of that particular brag/rant session: as I was marking all the assignments for the Mystery class today, I did need to take the occasional brain break--and one of them was to start pulling together in-class writing assignments for the Fiction class. Pretty fun, actually. So far, I've only raided from Le Guin's Steering the Craft, but next I'll embark on the Gotham Writer's Workshop volume and pull out some fun stuff from there--and tweak it or use it as springboard for my own ideas.

I confess to being a bit anxious about tomorrow's 102 class. I'm worried that the students won't have done any reading in the novel prior to diving into their revisions--which will leave us with nothing to discuss. If that's the case, I may just send them away, but I won't know for sure how I'll feel or what I'll do unless it happens. Please heaven it won't: may they surprise me delightfully by being ready to talk about the book.

I can't think about the book now, however, without also thinking about my sabbatical application. I comments from another colleague on P&B today--but he didn't answer the one main question I had, which I still haven't gotten satisfactory feedback on. In fact, his response muddied the waters for me to a certain extent: I need to look carefully at all the feedback I've gotten--thank God it's all written down--and clarify for myself exactly what the areas of concern are. One of them is that I don't make enough of my contact with Le Guin; another is that I don't say enough about the novel itself. (I didn't think I needed to, as all that really matters is that the novel is important in SF studies and should be widely known outside that "ghetto," and therefore there is a purpose to my proposal. Does the sabbatical committee really need to know about the contents of the book? And if so, what, and how much?)

Fortunately, ultimately, it's my call what I do and do not include. I will listen very carefully to my colleagues' advice: they have an objectivity about my project that I obviously cannot have, and so even if at first I think I disagree with what they say, I need to back up and try to develop some objectivity of my own. Often, when I do that, I end up thinking, "Well, actually, they have a point"--and changing whatever it is as suggested.

But that's a project for another time. I need to get through this week first, and god knows I'll have enough to keep me amused. I have two observations to conduct: one tomorrow after the Mystery class; one Wednesday at 12:30 (so I have to get in to Advisement early in order to leave early). And that means write-ups of the observations--on top of the paper grading and so on. Not that the write-ups take all that long, but it's a matter of where to put them on the triage stack.

Shifting gears back to classes: I had a great time this weekend re-reading P. D. James's An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, which is next up for the Mystery class. I'll be most interested to get their thoughts on the first chapters. It is by far the most literary work we've read to date--and one in which the personalities are, to a large degree, more important than the "whodunnit" aspects of the story. I honestly can't predict how they'll feel about it--or how challenging they'll find it to read, if at all. But I also know I'll return all their work to them at the end of class: I don't want them distracted by their grades until after we've talked about the reading.

There's a department meeting tomorrow: depending on how the grading goes, I may bail on it. I want to collect those papers from the 102 class tomorrow afternoon with the decks as clear as I can possibly make them, so I can dig into giving second-round feedback with nothing else needing to be done first. Since I gave more feedback on the first versions this time, I hope to do less on the second--but that reminds me, I do need to re-do that final version check sheet. But not tonight. It doesn't need to be done until next week, so it gets pushed down the triage list.

The bells just rang 7:00. My evening office hour is officially over--and I am officially out of here. No re-read, no edit--yet again. Posting and running out the door.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Well, thank God for the Mystery course

The 102 class was a bit rough today. I realize I came on stronger than I have in the past--the fierce side of me is coming out more than has been the case to date, but Paul and I have been talking about how maddening it is to have specifically said do this, or don't do that--and the students seem to blithely ignore what we're saying. I know they're not truly ignoring it--or a few may be that lazy or truculent, but most are running into other problems. Either the old habits are so deeply entrenched that they don't even notice that they're doing them, or they just can't believe they really, truly have to let go of what's worked so well in the past.

Most of the students were working well, asking questions, but a few were profoundly frustrated--to the point where they were essentially unable to approach the work at all. One didn't even try: he sat there doodling the whole class period. (I almost told him he might as well leave.) Several students were told that what they had written simply would not pass, had it been the final version, and of those, only one had the good sense to talk to me about it. The others didn't ask a single question, ask for help, nothing. But I could feel the frustration in the room, and there is a point when frustration teeters on the brink of hostility. It isn't really hostility--and it isn't personal. I know it's about the work. More, it's about the fact that we all are what my father would have called "ego-involved" in our work: for most of the students, doing well, being good at this, matters deeply, and when they're told in no uncertain terms that the work isn't cutting it, it feels like a personal attack. I've had relatively recent experience of the sting of that myself, when one of my papers was soundly (and rightly) rejected for publication. It hurts. It's shaming. As one student said, it is indeed hard to swallow.

But that's the dreadful--and strangely also wonderful--thing about being a student, is the ways that learning requires true humility. Not self-denigrating or self-abasing: humble. I deal with it all the time in dance class, or riding lessons--especially dance, because I pride myself on my abilities as a dancer, so when I struggle with a move and feel like a bumbling idiot, it reminds me of the importance of humility. It does no good to get angry with myself or with my instructor--or my dance partner (the easiest target in a dance class). I have to acknowledge that I, even I, stumble and am dense and feel like a moron. But it passes--as long as I'm willing to swallow some pride and learn. The students in my classes have to face that same difficult task--and they're young enough that they haven't had to do it as often as I have, so they're not as inured to that genuine moment of pain.

I don't like making them feel like shit. I don't like it when they go through that emotional struggle--especially when it's particularly difficult, as it is for some of them (note the ones who were completely unready to even go there, simply checked out entirely). However, I know that I can't lie to them, or even mitigate the sting sometimes. I'll go ahead and throw diplomacy to the winds here: if something is simply bad--badly written, badly thought out, badly presented--then the students need to know that. Better they learn it now, here, from me, than later in the world when the stakes are even higher, and the consequent possibility for feeling truly, deeply shamed, even more profound.

I also don't like the way I feel I need to respond to what I experienced in that class: I get frustrated, too, which leads to a cycle of negative reinforcement. So it's going to take me a while to shake it off.

But the Mystery class helps. The class ended way the hell early--cool by me--but we had a good talk about the rest of The Big Sleep, and a few other mundane matters (I recommended the original version of Sleuth, and told them about the SF/mystery I'm reading now, China Mieville's The City and the City, which is wonderfully strange). And I promised faithfully on my honor that I will return the whole enormous pile of stuff I have collected from them on Tuesday. I'm taking it all home with me, to add to the stories I need to read for the Fiction class. I need to look at my calendar to see just how much time I have next week so I know how much of it I have to do over the weekend. I'm pretty pleased that I've gotten to this point in the semester and this is the first week I've had to take student work home with me over the weekend.

Oh, and another thing to help me reframe the day and feel more positive about it: I had a great time subbing for my colleague this morning (even though I had to get up at 5 a.m.). Larger class this time, which helped--and after the stunned moments at the beginning, as they tried to figure out who this madwoman in front of them as, they got into the spirit of the thing. At the end, one asked when their professor would be back, and I said we don't know, but that if she isn't back, she'd arrange for more subs--though I might not sub that class again. They were audibly disappointed at the thought that I wouldn't be back, so I took the moment to engage in some self-promotion: if you like the way I teach, sign up for English 281. One asked me if it would be easy, and I said I sure couldn't guarantee that (in fact, the opposite, though I didn't say so)--but I sure could guarantee it would be interesting. When my colleague is back, I may ask her if she'd mind distributing fliers for me.

And finally, I got my long-awaited medallion today. I wore it to my classes, just for the amusement factor--and joked that, having won the award, I expect them all to now call me "your majesty." The 102 students were unamused; the Mystery students laughed and joked back with me. I also have to confess, I am surprised at how moved and proud I felt to stand up on that stage and receive the medallion, receive the applause of my colleagues--and even more so to have several colleagues congratulate me after, even one whom I don't know calling congratulations out of her car as she passed me at an intersection. Once again, I'm tempted to get all my various diplomas framed--and to also frame the certificate about the award to go with them--and hang all that up in the office. Tempted, but I won't. If I ever have my very own office, maybe, but here? Not unless Paul and William join me in that display of our credentials. We all have those multiple degrees--and we all now have Chancellor's Awards.

And I have an office full of plants that need to be watered before I leave for the weekend, a stomach that needs food, and two hungry cats at home. I will, therefore, call it a night--call it a week--and return, refreshed (I hope) on Monday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Yet another calculated risk

I was very diligent about slogging away at the 102 papers today, and I made good progress, I'm happy to report. However, I really wanted to get one more done tonight (which would leave only four to be graded tomorrow)--but I just. can't. do it. I've slammed into the wall.

It's been very interesting to note that suddenly, on these papers, far more students are reverting to old high school tactics than was the case on the first paper, which I can only assume arises from some fear about their ability to nail an interpretation of these poems--or to find a common thread to use for a unifying thesis. They start with huge generalizations (um, didn't I tell you several times on the first paper not to do that?); they talk about how great the images are and how the poets really make you feel their feelings (gag); they drop quotations in with no introduction (though I will say most of them at least make an attempt at explication). One or two even are reverting to the "repeat the phrase" tactic: whatever you said in the intro becomes the first sentence of the body. The last sentence of a body paragraph becomes the first sentence of the next one (as if that makes a transition). Repeat the intro for the conclusion. (Argh.)

I firmly believe that another reason for this reversion to old tactics is the second guessing I was prepared for: after the first papers, they are all so gun-shy that they want the comfort of the old familiar way of writing. Sorry, my dears; I'm wresting your binkies away from you.

Meanwhile, the students in the Mystery class will have to wait even longer to get anything back from me--and the stack keeps growing. I'll collect another set of notes and summations tomorrow to mix in with everything else I've got. I am near the bottom of the stack of what I had from before, I grant you, but if I don't get all this back to the students on Tuesday, someone will have to call in the sniffer dogs and emergency rescue teams to find me under all the papers.

It was fascinating subbing for my colleague today. My approach is radically different from hers, and the students must have felt like they were being taught by a lunatic from Mars. However, at the end, they did say they felt like they were starting to get a handle on how to look at poetry. "Jabberwocky" petrified them (as did my performance of it, though at least a few were astonished enough to smile, breaking their stone-walled expressions of recalcitrance): they thought they needed to make sense of it, find some deeper meaning. They were so panic-stricken by that, I decided not to try "Anyone lived in a pretty how town" with them: they'd have imploded. Instead, I asked them to toss out suggestions of the poems they'd read that they were struggling with. They responded a trifle better to that, but I needed a crowbar to get them even an inch or two off the floor, where their intellects were lying about like stone slabs--and as you know, I'd far rather haul them out of the rafters.

Still, I think it went as well as it could under the circumstances. The Fiction Writing class also went well. Last night, I came up with an exercise that flew pretty well. I went through the white pages and selected 13 names at random. Each student drew a name out of a bowl: that is now their character--and I'm pretty sure we'll use that character for their third stories. Today, they wrote in class, coming up with details about the character. Some simply listed information, others started a narrative just to see where it went. One student--what did I call him before, Mr. Italy?--truly struggled, and when we talked about the process after they'd tried it out, he said that he has no imagination and that, after hearing what everyone else was coming up with, he felt like what he'd done was crap. Well, yeah, it kind of was, but I wasn't about to tell him that. I reminded him that when he was a little boy, he had an imagination: all children do (or at least all neurotypical children). He just has a ferocious inner critic who is shutting up that imaginative voice--so he needs to let his inner little boy out to play. He's got so much ego tied up in a specific variety of maleness, he's going to have to dig pretty deep to do that, and he may not be able to go there. But I sure hope he tries.

And not surprisingly, Real Writer and Edison Douglas came up with terrific stuff--but so did a few other students, which was delightful.

I took a poll, and they all felt that they're not getting a lot out of the readings any more. Fair enough: let's ditch 'em. I will distribute the copies--not just because what the hell, I already had them made, but also because who knows, they might actually read some of them and get something good out of them. (Several students said they now want to read the rest of Long, Dark Tea-Time.) But now I'm going to have to come up with writing exercises for every damned day for the rest of the semester that we're not workshopping. Actually, I just counted: I have to come up with nine days' worth of in-class writing exercises. Of course, I won't know until I run the exercises how long each one will take (I'm new to this, remember; first time teaching the course), so I want to have a slew of them in my back pocket, just in case. But among the other work of this weekend, I'll have to spend some time coming up with ideas/plans. I hope I can figure out a way to do some revising in class, in addition to various forms of free-writing and other general exercises. Maybe as I read this second batch of stories, inspiration will strike. After all, until last night, I didn't have the "pick a name; that's your character" idea. (Thank you Gotham Writers' Workshop and, as I mentioned, the Nassau County white pages.)

It's going to be a busy couple of weekends coming up. I have class work to do this weekend--as much as I can do--and I am a peer reviewer for an article by a friend, so I need to post my recommendation to the journal in question. Then, next up: revisions to the sabbatical application, which will happen over the two succeeding weekends, unless it goes a lot more quickly than I now anticipate. I've gotten feedback from P&B as well as from a rep on the college wide sabbatical committee; that rep is from our department, and I heartily dislike him and think he's a putz. So I'm in the interesting position of having to lower my hackles, put aside my personal animosity, and read his comments objectively, taking them as if they came from a colleague I respect. He doesn't know I loathe him, so his comments are offered in all good faith, and although some of them at first glance are idiotic, others are well taken, much as it pains me to admit it.

Yes, I'm petty. This same colleague is up for promotion to full professor, and I was telling Paul that if this guy gets the promotion--and he probably will--that completely diminishes the value of the rank for me. I mean, if Prof. Putz can get it, it ain't worth much. Rather the way I feel about the Chancellor's Award: I know some truly sub-par teachers who've gotten the award for excellence in teaching, and even though I flatter myself that I am indeed an excellent teacher, the award is no evidence of that. Still, both the award and the rank carry bragging rights; they make good lines on the CV (if I ever need to use my CV for anything again: what are the chances I'll apply for another job, now that I'm getting old and grey and am wearing the golden handcuffs?). So, yes, dammit, I'll collect my medallion in the General Faculty Meeting tomorrow. And, yeah, well, I'll probably apply for full professor when I'm eligible, though at the moment I can't remember when that is--William keeps track of these things, and I use him as my external memory--and though that eligibility will depend on the new contract, assuming we have a new contract.

It's always this string of dominoes: if the new contract is in place in time for me to get my sabbatical (and if sabbaticals are still part of the contract), then I can do my book (jeez, I hope). If I do my book and (please God) it gets published, I'll feel I have enough cred to apply for full--assuming the new contract is in place, allows for promotion to full, and that I'll be eligible to apply (as they may shift the number of years one must stay at one rank before applying for the next: they did it last round in my favor, so I got to go up for associate a year earlier than I expected, but...)

Gawd: watch them knock into the next, and the next, and the next. Or maybe, rather than dominoes, it's a tangled yarn basket. Or a hair ball. Whatever. None of that is happening tonight, thank the good lord.

Seems like there was something else I wanted to make note of, but whatever it may have been, it has vanished into the piles of lint in the corners of my brain. I have a little life maintenance to tend to this evening--and I'll deal with tomorrow tomorrow. (I have no choice, after all; it isn't like I can do tomorrow today, even if I wanted to, which I don't.)

(OK, when I start writing sentences like that, it's a clear signal I'm tired, wired, and need to start to wind down, like an over-excited, under-napped toddler. Stop, woman. Give it a rest.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Oh, Shit!" moment number 2,837 (or so)

Got to the 102 class today--and I didn't have any of the handouts: not for the different version of the logs that they'll use for the novel (including plot summary of the designated chapters), not for the glossary assignment, not the sample glossary. I got back to the office to find them sitting smugly on top of the radiator, underneath an inter-office envelope that I'd tossed in that direction to deal with later. Shit, shit, shit.

But the students were pretty cool about it. I told them to download the stuff from the faculty home page (I just checked: they assignment sheet and log form are both there--whew). I'll bring in the sample log--and the other stuff too (what the hell; I have it, after all)--to class on Thursday. The assignment sheets will be too late to be very useful, but at least the model glossary should help.

I will be fascinated to see how they do with the first reading. They were a little boggled by the density of information in the first few pages that we read, but I reassured them that most of the time they'll just read; they'll only have to work at that level of detail when they feel confused or unclear. And yes, we'll go over it all in class.

Two students didn't have their papers but should have them for me tomorrow. One student--the one who missed the first paper altogether, but who is great with the in-class stuff--showed up at the office after my classes, paper in hand. We talked for a bit: she said that she feels embarrassed about the paper, so I talked to her about A) silencing the inner critic and B) looking at writing as a process. The first version of anything is crap. It was a nice little talk, and she felt greatly reassured when she left. And I'm glad not to have lost her. Her grade for the semester may be dreadful, because of that missing first paper, but I think she stands to learn a lot.

One very smart student withdrew today. I had a feeling she would: she's missed a lot of class because things in her family are falling apart. She says she'd like to take the class from me next semester, and I'd welcome that. Lots of potential in that young woman.

The Mystery class was fine, nothing much to report. However, two students came to me at the end of class to admit that they never uploaded their papers to TurnItIn. I thought everyone had--but I was just looking at the list of students who actually have TurnItIn accounts. Those two young men do not. Ahem. Well, late penalty for them. And one student didn't turn in the printed copy. He was supposed to drop it on my office door by 7:15; it's almost 8:30 and no sign of it. We'll see if it's there tomorrow morning. If not, I'll have to decide what to do. One student annoyed the crap out of me by saying that he'd submitted his rough draft--and he handed me the paper he really meant to submit. I'm not so sure I buy it--but I'll look at the "real" one anyway. I won't mark a hell of a lot, though, since I already marked the one he handed in initially.

And chances are, I won't get the papers back to them on Thursday, much as I'd like to. I got all but five done (I think; I haven't checked the tally in a while), but now I'm going to be up to my antlers in the 102 papers. I had hoped to get a start on those tonight, but instead, I spent the time after class getting fully prepared for tomorrow's class. (After today's "oh shit" debacle, I'm jumpy about doing it again.)

So, the stories are all copied to distribute. I have an exercise in mind for when we run dry in discussing the chapters from Long, Dark Tea-Time.... In fact, the exercise I have in mind may well become their third stories. If it works as I'm hoping, it will.

So, the decks are cleared for me to hit the ground running on those 102 papers tomorrow. I've let the good folks on the Assessment committee know I won't be there, ditto the folks in Advisement. So tomorrow, I will get here as quickly as I can possibly manage, and will sit at my desk and grind until I have to go sub the class for my colleague and then teach my own class. Then, if I haven't made sufficient progress, I'll grind some more after class.

The time for grading papers on Thursday has gotten bollixed up--but in a good way, I suppose. First, I sub for my colleague at 10. Then, I was going to have an individual training session in our online teaching platform, but I canceled that--in part because the departmental tech folks are going to do our own little workshop but more because presentation of Chancellor's Awards will take place at the General Faculty meeting on Thursday. And I want my damned medallion. It's silly to take this seriously at all: I know how little competition there is for the thing and how easy it is to clear the hurdles (essentially, getting nominated and putting together the application are the only real possible sticking points). But it sure as hell looks good on the CV: "Recipient of 2013 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching."

It's time to stop for the night. As it is, I'm going to have a hard time powering down quickly enough to get a decent night's sleep before tomorrow's early alarm. I have to try not to think too far down the pike: I know I'm going to have to take work home this weekend (dammit), but that's not anything I can do anything about now. I can't do another lick of work that requires any brain cells at all. Including re-reading this post. Warts and all: up it goes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Shooting myself in the foot, so to speak

I have made life more difficult for myself today, through an act of generosity: one of my colleagues has to fly out of town to be with her dying mother; she was in need of subs to cover her classes, and although I will be up to my neck in grading papers, I offered to cover two of them. I hate to admit that I was rather hoping my offer would come too late, but no, those two were going begging. I am glad to do it for her, but it is going to mean I'll have to squeeze in other time in which to mark the first versions of second papers for the 102 students. There are fewer students this round than there were last time, but my time is going to be significantly crunched--especially because the students specifically asked for more detailed comments on the first version (and that I not use red, ever).

I'm concerned about the time, but I think they're right, actually. They do need more guidance on that first round of corrections--and this time, I think they'll understand that guidance better, having been through the process once before. I'm still going to ignore sentence-level stuff on the first round (though it pains me to see it); they absolutely need to work on ideas, structure, focus, before they worry about comma splices and sentence fragments--or even how to properly format poetry quotation.

Speaking of the sentence-level stuff, however, in grading the final versions of paper 1, I realized I need to re-do that check list. I may have said this already, but the one I pulled together didn't include any mention of sentence-level errors, and those truly can sink an otherwise reasonably good paper. As I said in my brief comments, more than once, ideas are only as good as the clarity with which they are presented. So, back to the drawing board on that check list, before final versions of paper 2 come in.

And speaking of grading papers, I've been chipping away at the papers for the Mystery class. I probably should knock a few more off tonight--but I almost certainly won't. I've been cranking through them relatively quickly, mostly because I'm not writing comments (or much in the way of comments). Mostly, they're not terrible. Not great--and several don't actually have a thesis (just a statement of fact)--but not terrible. I don't want to tear my hair out and scream, not yet anyway. And one or two are looking pretty danged good.

I was so engrossed in grading those papers that I rather forgot I was teaching the Fiction Writing class today--and it was another utter lead balloon. Only two or three students had done the reading, as they were focused mostly on writing their stories. The Real Writer suggested we talk about their stories, so after forcing them to do a read-around of the extract I'd assigned for today, and dragging a little comment out of them, we did talk about their stories, but not to any real purpose that I could detect. After class, Ms. Romance Reader asked if we would ever do free-writes. I'm not a huge fan of them, but as I was leaving the building, three of the young men from the class were outside talking: The Real Writer, E. R. Edison meets Douglas Adams (I'm going to call him Edison Adams), and the Slam Poet. I asked them what they think of free writes, and they all said they love them--in fact, Real Writer said that after he'd suggested we talk about their stories he thought, "Damn, I should have suggested a free write." I said I'm not good at coming up with the prompts--to which he responded that the book his class used for Creative Writing was filled with great ones. But another part of why I don't like free writes is that I don't see where they lead: they feel somewhat pointless and masturbatory to me. He offered to bring the book his former professor used, but I'm going to dig through the creative writing books I have already and see if something stands out. They're supposed to read some Douglas Adams for Wednesday (an extract from Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul), but somehow I don't think there will be a lot of discussion about it. And I'm almost ready to ditch the readings entirely. Despite how crucial it is for budding writers to read and read and read, I don't think the students are getting a hell of a lot out of them. But I'll ask. I'm more than happy to let them direct the class to a large extent.

But this is another instance when I wonder if a student is wondering who the idiot is, teaching the class. The Real Writer tends to nod appreciatively when I talk about writing, but I think he may sense that I'm making it up as I go along. Of course, one of my grad school advisers said that in time, one simply gets more used to feeling like a fraud, so I reckon this is case in point.

I'm already thinking a lot about tomorrow, both the paper grading and the classes themselves. The 102 students will start with Left Hand of Darkness in class, which is always, ahem, interesting. We'll go very slowly at first, so they get the hang of it. I'm curious to see how they respond. And the Mystery class will watch the rest of Gosford Park and then, in a radical shift of gears, begin talking about The Big Sleep.

But what I've just spent the last hour or so doing is reworking the fliers for Nature in Lit. We just got our fall schedules, and yep, I got it, plus three 102s. I'm going to tell Bruce and the head of Advisement that I don't want to throw anything back yet: I'm going through the perpetual worry that Nature in Lit won't run, and I don't want to suddenly end up having to teach a spring 101 (god help me). So I want to ask this semester's students to vote on fliers: which they think will be the most effective in getting students to sign up for the class (and, incidentally, the process will advertise the class to my students this semester--most of whom won't sign up, either because I'm too hard--the 102 students--or because they've already fulfilled their English requirements--everyone else--but still). I remain ever so slightly pissed off that Bruce scheduled Nature in Lit and Native American Lit at the same time, so I can't use Native American as a back up for Nature. (And Native American is going begging for a teacher right now, dammit.) Not that Native always runs, either. But there truly aren't any other electives I could grab as a back up: they either run at times I won't do (Fridays? Monday/Wednesday at 8 a.m.? I thinketh not) or are not anything I'm remotely qualified to teach. I'm going to put my faith in the cosmos on this one, that something will happen so I don't have to teach three sections of 102. I can do it--I have done it--but I've gotten spoiled, and it's just a fuck of a lot more work than I'm interested in putting forth these days. As it is, I'm going to have to be very smart about scheduling the paper versions, or I'll get hammered, even teaching just two sections.

But that's way down the road. Right now, all that matters is today.

Nice moment: I was walking to class, and a colleague stopped me to say that one of her students announced that I am "awesome." I remember the young woman clearly: she was whip smart but couldn't write to save her life. I think by the end she was doing well (funny that I can't remember), but whether or no, she was great in the class discussions, delightful to have in class. I'm pretty sure she was in a section last fall: I think I recall that she was classmates with students who were adversely affected by the hurricane. I know exactly what room the class was in, I just don't remember the semester. They tend to blur together. But she was a standout. Nice to get the compliment through a colleague. I tend to somewhat discount praise I get from students while they are in my class; the adulation may be completely genuine, but the students also are in a situation in which I have a lot of power, and they know it, so there is always that possibility of something at least a bit disingenuous, if not frankly fawning about their expressions of admiration. I can generally get a sense of who is sincere and who is not, but there's always that question. Not in this case, though. This one, I can just bask in for a while.

Now, however, I have to at least shuffle papers around for a bit before I pack my tents and steal off into the night. OK, maybe I'll squeeze out one more Mystery paper. I got a late submission that looks like a train wreck: those, and the really super good ones, are always the easiest to grade. Paul and I were talking about the fact that the Writing Center is establishing a category, something like "unlikely to benefit." If I feel a student is unlikely to benefit from my comments on a paper, they'll be minimal indeed. And if the paper is terrific, there isn't much to say. It's the ones in the middle, that have promise but problems, that require the most effort.

But that's my job. It's what I do. And I'm glad to be able to do it well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I'm losing them

Dammit. The 102 class is shrinking alarmingly. There are maybe 14 or 15 students left of the original 28, I think it was--and we haven't even started on the novel yet, or the second paper. However, the ones who are left are doing well together, I think. One of the groups was a bit flat--I'm not sure what was wrong with the chemistry there--but the others were fine, and one was terrific. There are three students who are about on the same level in terms of intellectual chops as well as dedication to adacemics; they were in a group together today and it was really lovely to watch them work. We did spend a good portion of the period going over the nuts and bolts/technicalities of the next paper, so I had to sort of hustle them through the remaining poems--and as a consequence handed them more, elicited less, than I think is ideal. But they got them, which is the main thing. One of the better students--very quiet but a decent thinker and writer--wasn't there today, and I'm a bit concerned about that. She did contact me by e-mail, so I reminded her that the paper is due Tuesday and directed her to my faculty home page to find the assignment. I almost sent it to her as an attachment but then decided she needs to take at least that much responsibility for herself.

The Mystery class is holding pretty steady. One student withdrew today (a good plan, as I think she's been lost since the beginning), and at first I was very worried, as more than half the class was missing--but I should have expected that: a paper was due. By the end of the period, almost everyone was there, papers in hand. We watched more of the movie--and their responses are becoming more audible: more laughs, gasps, and so on. We'll finish it up on Tuesday and then radically shift gears into The Big Sleep. I sent the students a link to a video of a performance of Firesign Theater doing "Nick Danger, Third Eye"--which I still find funny. I don't know if they will. I'd love to find some results of "write like Raymond Chandler" contests, but nothing is cropping up. Well, it will be very interesting to see how they respond.

I did collect their first real essays today--and they already were talking about when the deadline is for revision. I don't want to chase them out of the class with draconian grading, but I also don't want to mollycoddle them. When I start reading them next week, I'm sure I'll make some kind of decision on that.

I suppose I should mention that I made something of an ass out of myself at the Academic Standing meeting today. I had raised the issue of plagiarism and the policy--because no one I know seems to be sure exactly how to handle issues of plagiarism. I was sitting one row over and one seat behind from the Dean of Students, who was clearly pissed off in the extreme that I was bringing it up. Well, turns out there is a policy, and she swears we get an e-mail about it every year (I swear I've never seen one, ever). I know there is a policy for the students, letting them know that plagiarism is an academic offense, but I have never seen anything official about procedures for handling it. In any event, after the official meeting was over, I talked to the dean, and by the end of our conversation, she had lightened up significantly and was smiling at me, so apparently I'm forgiven. But I am going to do a little research into the procedures--and resurrect our departmental policy (which I know we created years ago)--and circulate that information to at least our faculty. Apparently, according to the dean, we're the only department that ever, EVER, raises the issue of plagiarism to her office. Other kinds of cheating come from other departments, but plagiarism only from us. And I was happy to learn that students sometimes are suspended for plagiarism. Not as a standard rule, but it is a possible consequence--and I didn't think it ever happened. The upshot is that she's mollified--I'm not going to throw bombs into the system and am more than willing to admit that I'm simply an ignorant dope about this--and I'm mollified because I realize her office actually has some teeth, and will use them.

But for now, I admit: I am beyond exhausted. I don't know whether what I've just written makes even a shred of sense, but I can't bear to go back over it. I need to grab my bags and get out of here. This weekend, I have to finish that book review (it's due on Tuesday)--but beyond that, I intend to do a lot of resting. I may pay for it next week, but I refuse to take work home this weekend. The book review will keep me busy enough.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

And then a miracle occurred (plus a fire drill)

Earlier today, I got an e-mail asking if we could move tomorrow's Taskstream subcommittee meeting from 10:00 to 9:30. Serious "Oh shit" moment. I had been awake briefly at 4:30 this morning and thought, "I hope that Taskstream meeting is next week." Yeah, well. Obviously some part of me remembered that it is, in fact, this week; I just hadn't looked at the calendar in a day or so and had blissfully forgotten. When I read the e-mail, I didn't panic, but I did respond saying I'd probably have to reschedule, as I hadn't started grading the 102 papers yet.

Two hours later, I e-mailed back: "Oh, wait. Never mind: I can meet tomorrow."

Yes, folks, that's the miracle. The new system, using a detailed rubric for the final versions--along with steadfastly refusing to mark ANYTHING on the papers themselves and keeping comments only to those things not covered in the rubric--has saved me hours of time and gallons of sweat. Oh thank God.

So, yes, I have four more to do tomorrow, but I'm trusting (praying) I can get those done during my office hour. The Mystery students will have to wait until next week to get any of their assignments back (unless there is yet another miracle), but they don't urgently need those assignments for anything, so no harm, no foul.

I will say that this evening's schedule was slightly thrown because there was just a fire drill. (Yes, really.) It didn't last too long, but long enough that this post will now have to be a kind of Cliff's Notes version.

The Fiction students didn't have much to say about Le Guin's "The First Contact with the Gorgonids"--much to my disappointment. I find it funny; they didn't like it. But I'd figured we'd run out of things to say, which is why I'd sent my story to be critiqued. The problem there was that only one student had actually printed it out and brought it to class (Mr. Real Writer). We had so much time, however, that I let the rest of them look it up on their phones and had the students read it aloud in class. Their responses were interesting--but the main thing is that they now understand their own assignment much better. Two students were brave enough to tell me something they thought didn't work, which I loved.

After class was the best, though. I had a talk with Mr. Real Writer about his revision of his first story. In his report on his revision, he mentioned a whole additional dimension that he'd wanted to add to the story, and we talked about that, what he should do with it and where the pitfalls might lie. He also wasn't sure how to go about building the SF world for his next story: write more stories about it, I suggested. He liked that idea. But I want to bring a copy of Le Guin's essay about world making for him.

Also after class, I had a long talk with the student who is involved in the Creative Writing Club. He's going through a rough time right now, mostly struggling with career choices and decisions about what to do next in his life in general. I'm not sure I was terribly helpful, but I think simply the fact that he has a sympathetic ear, and someone other than his parents to hash things out with, was beneficial. He's very sweet, and clearly distressed--and stressed--so I told him to take it easy with my class for a while; I'll be flexible about the reading notes and so on, as long as he does the major work. I'll be flexible about absences, too, if he needs that. The last thing in the world I want is for my class to drag him down, particularly as he really loves writing--won first prize in the NCC student writing competition last year, in fact. He needs encouragement, and I'm glad to provide it for him.

And that essentially covers the day. I'll do a little photocopying for tomorrow's classes, and then--hooray!--will head out to meet Paul for that work-play dinner. And we'll see how tomorrow goes.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

scheduling snafu

I'm here late, trying to crank through more of the story revisions, which I need to return to the Fiction writing students tomorrow--so they can have them before they write their next stories, due on Monday. Meanwhile, I just collected the final versions of paper 1 from the 102 students, which I need to get back on Thursday--because they have another paper due on Tuesday. I know I've looked at the 102 schedule before and didn't think I could adjust it to move paper 2 any later--but they're going to have to shift from poetry paper to novel and back again anyway, so I need to look again. If there is any way at all that I can give them another week before that poetry paper is due, I think it might help them produce better results.

Or maybe not. I know how most students work, and even if I give them extra time, most of them will write the paper the night or two before it's due. The ones who would actually make use of extra time are generally the ones who will also do OK without it. And honestly, I don't particularly want to drag this out, for my own reasons--among them, that I would prefer to knuckle down and get through October and then be able to lighten up a bit on the grading. I'll still be collecting homework, but that requires less than evaluating papers.

But no matter what I decide about that, tomorrow and Thursday are going to require that I ratchet up the pace. I've been pretty easy on myself this semester, and so far it's worked, but I can't do that this time. I've got to be fiercely disciplined and just push through, no matter what. Paul and I are supposed to have a working dinner (steak and scotch blowout) tomorrow night, but I'll have to see where I am by the time I go to class tomorrow afternoon. If I haven't made a significant dent in the work, I may have to ask for a rain check--especially because I have a committee meeting that I must attend on Thursday (I'm the department's elected representative, so I really can't blow it off). That takes a big bite out of my Thursday morning time before class. I know I'll be doing the "how many papers do I have, what's the average time to grade each paper" calculation to figure out how many hours I need to give myself. Gawd almighty.

As I'm writing all this, I realize that Tuesday night dance classes are simply not going to work for me this term. I can try to do other healthy and enjoyable activities on other nights, but I'm pretty much always going to need much more than an hour between when I get back to the office and when I leave campus: time to put papers in the right stacks, to get some flotsam swept up (last night, I wrote a cover letter for a Chancellor's Award application, one of my committee duties)--and yes, blog.

So, turning my attention to the student interactions of the day. That poor student in 102 who missed the first paper, sort of disappeared, reappeared with apparent resolve to do well in the class? I got an e-mail from her yesterday that said she'd be in class today and asking what she should have ready. I gently suggested she look at the schedule of assignments, but I thought, "Oh, Child, if you are that lost, you're truly lost." Then, icing on the cake, I got a notice today that she has been disenrolled entirely--not just from my class but from the college--because she hasn't provided her immunization records. It's been ages since I've had a student run into that problem, but she's now missed six classes, and the policy is, at six absences, the student has two and only two choices: withdraw or fail. I'm sorry for her--I really do think that under better circumstances she might make an OK student (even though her writing is not terrific, or not yet)--but she needs to cut her losses now.

On a more cheerful note, class went well: the students were struggling with two poems (Cheryl Savageau's "Bones--A City Poem" and Andrew Marvel's "To His Coy Mistress"): both difficult but for very different reasons. But they did a great job of working the process: break it down, focus on the words, make the connections, build it back up again. I'm interested to note that the student who seemed to "get" the poems best started out saying she didn't understand either one at all. She's the student who completely missed the first paper--but she's in there, doing her best to do the work. Once she focused on the process, she nailed both poems beautifully. A couple of other students who had been struggling before are suddenly getting the hang of this work. I liked how things went. I did have to remind students to stick with the language of the poem: some in their groups and one (I think only one, but there may have been more) in the class discussion. They wanted to get to an interpretation based on just a few words without looking at how those words fit into the whole. I was probably too impatient with that, just shot the students down instead of asking the Socratic questions to get them to reconsider--but I also wanted to move things along. We've got three more poems to cover on Thursday, and I cannot wait until we get to Sharon Olds's "Sex without Love." That one's always a kick to teach.

The Mystery class was good, too. I did a quick blast through paper format, incorporating quotations and paraphrase (didn't get to plagiarism, dammit: I wish I had), works cited pages--and My Favorite Student (hereafter MFS) not only knows MLA format to perfection (says she had it drilled into her, for which I am grateful), she also said that she loves the fact that they are to base everything they say on their reading of the text. She said she hates her philosophy papers because they're all personal opinion. I said, well, these are your analysis of the material, which is a kind of "opinion"--but you must have an argument about the material: that's what you're talking about. I said quotations should be brief, pertinent, and rare--and that the bulk of the paper should be explication of the quoted material. MFS joked about that, "But it's so tempting to use lots of quotations to make your paper longer!" Yes, I said, and that's why I said "brief, pertinent, and rare." Of course, then I had to say that they must use some quotation--it's absolutely required--but when they do, they need to know why they're using it.

I fully anticipate that virtually ever paper I receive from them on Thursday will be problematic in any number of ways. Some of them may have had better writing skills than I'll see evidence of but have gotten rusty; many of them never had the skills to start with--certainly not at the level I expect. But this is why I allow (encourage) revision. It's highly unlikely they'll be allowed that second shot when they get to their four-year institutions (those of them who are going on, which is most of them), but at this level, they need it and deserve it: they're still learning.

Oh, God, I need to get out of here. It's almost 9 p.m. and I have to be back here in 12 hours. I'm flinging this up on the blog, rough and raw as it is, no adjustments. I may or may not have time to blog tomorrow--we'll see how the grading goes--but if I don't, I'll certainly check in on Thursday and let you all know how it goes. I leave you now, in breathless anticipation of the next installment from Prof. TLP...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Another roll of the dice

I may get a little more work done today, but I'm not counting on it. No good reason to shunt it aside, other than the child's complaint: "I donwanna." There's nothing odious in the to-do stack, not even very much there--it's a pretty light load at the moment. And that's part of why I'm taking the gamble that I can bail early tonight and still get things done in a timely manner.

It's a very interesting experience grading the short story revisions. Because I am grading on revision, not on talent or the quality of the story, some of the less-splendid in terms of literary merit are getting high grades. I don't have a problem with that--it's the nature of the beast--but it is an odd experience for someone who is usually fiercely insistent on the quality of the finished product.

The class was a bit odd today, too. Several students were missing--and the class is small enough that having three students out changes the composition of the chemistry significantly. Tyra (not Kyra: my apologies to the writers of Friday Night Lights) would not such up, talking about herself, herself, herself: I finally had to give her the "tone it down" hand gesture--which she didn't entirely pick up on: firmer measures are apparently needed. I may talk to her outside of class: she's definitely moving in the "obnoxiously dominating the class discussion" direction, and I need to (as my students would say) nip that in the butt--or at least get it checked before it gets any worse.

Discussion of the story we read for today was pretty flat (Sherman Alexie's "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor")--though the students generally liked the story. I tried to come up with a "jot down ideas" exercise on the fly and it rather bombed... I let them go 20 minutes early. Again.

I am going to e-mail them one of my stories so we can--if time permits--critique it in class on Wednesday, after we discuss Le Guin's "First Contact with the Gorgonids." I want them to read that story because it's funny (humor being the motif at the moment) and also because I want them to see the difference in style between that and "Malheur County." I'll be interested to see if the students can also detect any ways in which--despite their glaring differences--the two stories have a similar voice. I know Le Guin's work well enough to hear her voice in both stories--but I'm not sure I'd pass a metaphoric blindfold test: would I know it was Le Guin's work if I didn't know it was Le Guin's work? But I think it's good for them to see one writer working in very different modes.

I do, however, need to remember to send them my story tonight, so they have time to read it. The students who missed today's class and who don't check their e-mail are simply out of luck.

On another front entirely, I submitted my sabbatical application today. (Set off the confetti cannons! Cue the parade!) I'll be curious to see what feedback I get from P&B, but until I'm told something I need to include or change, as far as I'm concerned, I'm done. If there's more correspondence between now and when the thing has to go to the college-wide committee, I'll include that as well, but really, it's as complete as I can think to make it: I don't know what else to put in it.

And I don't know what else to put in this post. It's raining like mad outside, wild wind, so I'm not in a huge hurry to get in the car and head home. I will noodle around here in the office a little while longer--at least make some photocopies, even if I don't accomplish anything more substantive. And that will be the day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oh, and by the way...

...I do track the statistics provided by Google regarding how many hits my blog gets--and my ego has been nicely gratified to see an upward trend as the semester progresses. I'm not near my all-time high yet, but it's still nice to see the increased traffic. Dear readers: please tell everyone you know about my blog and suggest they read it. Not because it's all that wonderful; simply because I like the attention. I used to be an actress, after all.

One bright and shining moment

For one brief and glorious hour or so, my "to be marked" folder was entirely, blissfully empty. Of course, I collected more assignments this afternoon--but last night's gamble paid off: I got a good bit of down time last night and still got everything marked for both of today's classes, with time to spare for lunch. All of the deliberations over what to do about students whose paper submissions were late have been resolved smoothly and, I think, fairly. There are three papers from 102 students on the office door right now, waiting to be collected, but the students have been duly informed, and it's now all over to them.

My dear, sweet 102 students. When I told them to brace themselves for the seas of red ink on their papers, they almost visibly blanched. One young woman--a favorite student, in fact--began fanning herself. This was not pretense: she genuinely was experiencing an anxiety-produced hot flash. I need to talk with her at some point: she is so concerned about doing well, so tense about it, that she freezes and can't see what's in front of her. I overheard her saying, "I can't tell if this is good or not," and I said, "Count how many times I wrote 'good' in the margins." Hers is a good paper. It needs work--but they all need work. I told them that the revision process could pretty well be endless; my implication (which perhaps I should have stated) was that they should not be surprised that they still have further to go in terms of improving ideas, overall structure--the big revision points--not just sentence level editorial changes. And, in truth, despite the seas of red, most of them don't have huge problems on the sentence level. Often they only have one or two types of problem--comma splices, for instance, or wordiness; there simply are numerous instances of the type.

I was interested to note that wordiness was a problem in most of the papers. I've been aware of this in the past, but it was more glaringly obvious this time. It arises from the high school thinking that lots of fancy language equals good writing. There's a brilliant little essay I ran across eons ago that brings up that precise problem and equates it with how students are taught to read literature (i.e., badly). In fact, I wanted to use the textbook it appeared in back when I taught 101--but the publisher's rep told me the book was for high school students, therefore (for some mysterious reason) unavailable to me. Even so, I love that a high school textbook would contain an essay pointing to a serious problem with high school education. (The essay in question: Francine Prose, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read," originally published in Harper's in 1999.) In any event, I think I need to give every student in all my classes an embroidered sampler that says "Simplify to Clarify." I said to the 102 students that the two most important aspects of good academic writing are clarity and logic. (I said it rather fiercely.) The trick, of course, is helping them recognize both--or the lack of either--in their own writing.

Still on the 102 class but shifting gears slightly: I got an e-mail from the student I've been struggling with about getting the right things to the right place in the right format at the right time--the one I said yesterday I wouldn't mind losing. The e-mail was rather plaintive: she's having serious trouble juggling work and class, but she was going to talk to an adviser and she is going to the Writing Center. I apologize for my assumption that she got my comments and departed in a huff. However, she is in serious grade trouble, and I'm not sure it's in her best interest to stay in the class. I told her that I hope she got some good guidance but that I'm also willing to meet with her--which is always true, even of the students who put my hackles up a bit. This young woman is the perfect example that the impression does not always match the reality. I went to a professional development event devoted to that topic, in fact: we assume that students are recalcitrant or hostile, but often, if we can get them to sit down and talk with us for a bit, we discover that in reality they're confused, frightened, overwhelmed.... (Maybe I need an embroidered sampler: "Don't Assume You Know What's Behind a Student's Behavior.")

As for the Mystery class, I was too tired and cranky to deal with putting them into groups. Immediately launching into whole-class discussion usually doesn't work very well--and indeed it didn't today, but it went well enough. My favorite student in the class--charming, intelligent, and eager young woman--got us onto several significant tangents, and there were a few moments when her enthusiasm needed to be reined in a trifle, but I truly enjoy her contributions, tangents, interruptions and all. I might not if her work weren't as good as it is, but it is good: it's excellent, in fact.

This, by the way, is the young woman I thought might be wondering what the hell I know about mysteries, as she often was more clear and specific than I about the early stuff. I don't think I need worry; I know my stuff well enough. However, today she asked when I first read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Well, this spring--though on reflection, it may have been early summer; either way, I read it when I was getting ready to teach this class. She was astonished that I'd not read it before, but I explained again that I'm not a big fan of Christie. Great plots, cardboard characters. I like juicy, round, complex characters more than the puzzle itself--which is why, from that era, I prefer Ngaio Marsh, or (though I didn't bring her up) Dorothy Sayers. But since I had to choose, and this is an introduction to Mystery and Detective Fiction, I felt compelled to go with the "Queen of Mystery."

The student--I'll have to come up with a moniker for her--also noticed that I teach Native American literature, and she asked if Nevada Barr's Track of the Cat was chosen for that reason. No, I said, but that's why I chose Tony Hillerman's The Dark Wind. I explained that Hillerman isn't Native but that, generally, the Navajo say he does a fairly good job of representing their culture (for a white guy, and to a Euro-American audience). Track of the Cat, I said, comes out of my love of the nature writing vein, and I mentioned that I also teach Nature in Literature. (I hope. I hope it's on my spring schedule. I hope it runs.)

So far, both my Tuesday/Thursday classes are continuing to be great fun, and both work well in terms of class chemistry. The students who are dropping by the wayside aren't shifting the balance in the wrong direction, and the ones who remain are, if anything, getting even better by bouncing ideas off each other. I like ending my weeks this way.

And my week is at an end. I'm looking forward to getting to the rest of the sabbatical application over the weekend, maybe the publishing proposal as well, possibly even a little whack at the book review, depending on how well my brains, energy, and available time hold up. (I do have to do life maintenance, too, what a snorting pain in the ass.) I also want to construct a rubric for the final version of the 102 papers: if I come up with one that is comprehensive enough, I may not have to mark their final versions at all, which would be glorious. I'm flying high on the lift I get from great interactions with good students, but I dare not do any more work now, or I'll never wind down. Lovely to leave the week on the high, though, lovely to feel happy about the work in front of me instead of beaten down. I'll take more of this, please.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Dreaded Red Pen

I didn't use red pen to mark the first versions of the student papers from the 102 class--and I'm not entirely sure why I decided to revert to it for this version. I don't want to scare the students out of their wits, and I know seeing all the red does create the atavistic fear response--even when the comments are positive. But I've committed to it for this round. I'll ask them about it for the second paper. If they think it's easier to stomach the feedback when it's in some other, less petrifying color, I'm happy to find something else. I'm getting tired of dark blue (and I go through those gel pens astonishingly quickly; I'm using refillable pens (environmentally sanctimonious me), but even so). Black doesn't show up well enough. The students use purple and green for their class additions to their logs, so I want to reserve those colors for them. Orange and pink are too hard to read. Hmmmm. Turquoise? Options are limited. Maybe blue gel pen with a broad point simply wins by default.

More problematic, however, is that I've also fallen back into the old habit of marking everything. I am saved a little time by having the rubric for editorial stuff, which not only says what the problem is but also frequently refers the student to the pages in the handbook that address that problem. But I'm doing too much, and I know it. True, they genuinely have more revision to do--substantive changes on ideas, organization, logic, overall clarity of the argument--but now's also the time for them to look at the sentence level, and in many instances, there are systemic problems there. I had originally intended to mark a few representative examples and let them take it from there, but now that I'm in the process, I realize I don't yet trust their ability to read their work with enough attention or understanding to recognize other instances of an error from one or two examples pointed out by me. Again, I may change tactics with paper 2. A lot will depend on the results of this round of revising and editing on their part.

I am taking the calculated risk that I can work my way through the rest of the papers tomorrow. I may have to bail on a committee meeting--but I may bail on the committee anyway. I've intended to rejoin our departmental curriculum committee; I was on it for years, chaired it for a while, and have taken a long hiatus. I'm curious about what's going on (and vaguely mulling ideas for a new course to propose), but I'm not sure I'm curious enough to get involved in the work--which could turn out to be extensive this year, given some SUNY mandates that has the entire campus fartootst. The more I think about it, the more I think the assessment stuff (plus Academic Standing, P&B, scheduling ... am I on anything else?) is enough.

But I do think the risk of leaving the rest of the papers unmarked overnight is worth it. If what I have in hand is all I get, I only have eight plus a smidge more to do. I am missing two papers, but they're not uploaded to TurnItIn, either. One of them is from a student who was in class on Tuesday, came late--and I think he wanted to hand in his paper but we were in the middle of something else, so I told him to give it to me at the end of class. He didn't. I sent him an e-mail saying he needed to bring it to me. No response. I'm not quite sure what to do about him.

The other person who has not uploaded a paper is Ms. I'll Bring the Printed Copy Next Class. Somehow, I have the feeling her nose is out of joint over my comments--and the provisional grade--on the first version. If she shows up tomorrow, no more bending of the rules. Her grade on the first version is her grade on the finished product, and her revision grade is a zero. In any event, I will not be heartbroken if she is gone for good--and I'll lay any odds you like that it won't be long before she is gone.

There's a third instance that puzzles me: am I not sure what to do about the student who was absent but for whom I have a paper in hand. (Perhaps a friend brought it to class?) As far as I can determine, the "new" paper is simply a clean printout of the first one--and nothing is uploaded to TurnItIn. I'm mulling what to do in that case, too.

Incidentally, one of the students who never picked up the first version ambushed me as I was walking from Advisement to the office this afternoon, withdrawal slip in hand. I was relieved--not so much for myself as for her. She didn't seem very engaged in the work--possibly even lost. But I was surprised to see that she's withdrawing from everything. I made that observation to her, and she said she's going to cosmetology school instead. That's great. I bet she'll be a lot happier, and I'm sure she'll do well. Good for her.

Shifting gears, the Fiction Writing class was good--but there are two students who sit next to each other and drive each other bats. It's all very good natured so far, but I can tell there is an underlying seriousness about their animosity: they do not like each other, and they're both vocal about it. One is "Kyra," the other I'll call Mr. Italy, as his Italian heritage is clearly very important to him. I'm not sure what to do about them; so far, their sniping at each other is not disruptive to the class, but they're on somewhat thin ice as far as I'm concerned. Today I said I might have to make them sit further apart from each other (and Mr. Italy immediately made a semi-joke asking if I'd switch seats with him; next class I may). I'm monitoring the situation.

Another student, Ms. Romance Novel, came to me after class because I'd said we needed to sit down and talk about her class notes. Her notes have been nothing but summary, class after class, and she didn't seem to have any clue what she needed to do instead. At the same time, Kyra needed copies of the stories for next week, which I'd forgotten to keep in my class folder, so the two of them accompanied me back to the office. Calling the younger woman Kyra is doing a disservice to the character on Friday Night Lights. On the show, Kyra looks like a pretty dither-brain but she's extremely intelligent and academically ambitious, though lacking in self-esteem. The "Kyra" in my class may be smart, but she acts like a dither-brain--and has more self-esteem than may be appropriate. She spent the first third of the walk talking about how she had to get to her nail appointment, and the last third saying that she couldn't understand why students were complaining when their 102 professor was a frequent no-show. She said she just sees it as more time for work (as in her paying job, not school work). I said, "Well, those who prioritize work are happy to have class canceled; those who prioritize education want the teacher there so they can learn." She tried to say she has to prioritize both, but clearly that's not the case. The nails and the money come first.

The middle third of that walk/talk was interesting on a different level: she was saying that one of her  colleagues has been complaining/boasting that her daughter has a ferocious load of school work because she's going to Columbia medical school. Kyra kept saying her work load was equivalent. Kyra is planning on something medically related once she leaves here (I've now forgotten precisely what, or where), and it's true that she may not find her load at her four-year school significantly different from the load at NCC, but clearly she has zero clue what a top flight medical degree requires. Schools have prestige for reasons, and it isn't because they require the same level of work as everywhere else.

She's starting to wear on me a bit, I have to say; I'm less charmed than I was originally. But Ms. Romance Novel is delighting me. She is so devoted to reaching a new level of sophistication in both her reading and her writing, it's touching. After Kyra left, Ms. Romance Novel and I looked carefully at her last set of notes; she thought that because she was providing quotations, she was doing more than summary. So I asked her the leading questions, pointing out what she had done--and what the next steps would be. She asked me to be patient--was I sounding testy? I hope not, as I didn't feel that way--but I told her that I didn't need patience with her, she needed patience with herself. What she's doing is much more tasking than it might appear. The whole world of words has suddenly become bewilderingly complex for her, but there were several things about our interaction that I loved. One was that she could, with prompting, get to the deeper, more sophisticated understanding. Two, after we worked through a few examples, she looked at the rest of her notes and could identify the summarizing, recognized that she was, in fact, doing just that and nothing more. Indeed, I asked her what was different in how we'd been working together, and she was aware that she had to pay more attention to specific words, entire sentences, to read, not just read. Third was a particular moment. She referred again to the Real Writer in the class, noting that his responses to the story we'd just read were in themselves elegant and sophisticated. (The story in question, Emma Straub's "Orient Point.") As she'd been vocal in her praise of his writing, I said, "So, do you see the connection between sophisticated reading and sophisticated writing?" She looked first stunned, then delighted: light bulb above head lights up. Ah! The way to become a more sophisticated writer is to become a more sophisticated reader--and vice versa. She asked me for book recommendations. I didn't want to hurl her into the deep end, but I made a couple of suggestions of books she might like to take with her on her trip next week. I'll be most interested to hear her responses.

After she left the office, Paul and I had a long talk about our various work-related demons and the stress that they induce--and in the process I decided that tonight, I'd be better served by staying here in the office, shuffling papers into the triage stacks, and writing this post than by running out of here to go to yoga class. I suspect that until I've marked the final versions of paper 2 for the 102 class, Wednesday nights are going to look like this for me: for the next four weeks, I'll be turning papers around between Tuesday and Thursday--and I still need time to do self-indulgent things like, oh, eat, sleep. Even if I stop working as early as I did today (5 p.m.)--in which case, technically I could go to yoga--I simply don't want to feel rushed or pushed or fussed in any way.

So, unrushed, unpushed, and unfussed, right now, I want to go home. I'm going to send one e-mail (I hope that's all), pack my bags and get out of here. I'll be in bright and early tomorrow, and you know what we say about tomorrow. After all, it is another day.